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Learning in the Streets

Building strength in numbers. Developing grassroots leaders. Raising independent money. Mapping power relationships.

These are some of the key ingredients that go into building powerful community organizations that can win transformative change – which is why they’re core elements of the Alliance’s flagship Four-Day Organizer Training.

Our training team has been leading the Four-Day program annually for over a decade to build the organizing, strategic planning, and media skills of Alliance affiliate organizers and grassroots leaders.

This summer, there was so much demand that we had to multiply our Four-Day training schedule. We trained a cohort of 21 organizers at our West Coast Four-Day in Seattle in June (hosted by Washington Community Action Network). We ran an East Coast Four-Day for 25 organizers in Albany at the end of July (hosted by Citizen Action of New York – see photos).

And we just wrapped up a special Four-Day intensive for staff from our newest affiliate, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers-United, in New York City.

The Native Organizers Alliance (a project of AJS) also led a tailored Four-Day Native Organizing Training for 28 Native organizers working in Indian Country in June, along with a Native youth training in Montana in July and a condensed organizing workshop for the American Indian Center of Chicago in August.

What makes the Alliance’s training program stand out?

  • We learn by doing. While we hit the books (learning about the history and theory of community organizing), we also hit the streets. That’s how organizers from Washington to Maine and New Orleans to Vermont ended up shoulder to shoulder on a field canvass in Albany a few weeks ago, mobilizing residents of a working class neighborhood to urge their state senator to support a $15 minimum wage for all workers in New York. That’s what we call learning in the streets.
  • We lead with race. Where concerns about “divisiveness” sometimes lead groups to avoid talking openly about race, we teach organizers how to put race up front and centralize a racial justice analysis in their work – including internal training on the levels of racism, integrating racial justice analysis into picking issues and developing campaign strategies, investing in leadership development in communities of color, and leading with race in the media.
  • We’re serious about numbers. From the 80/20 rule for home visits to the 50/50 rule for counting turnout to the rule of 3 contacts for increasing engagement, we know building strength in numbers requires learning the science of effective organizing, setting measurable goals, and then holding ourselves and our teams accountable for outcomes.
  • We build strong ties.Our intense trainings build new relationships among staff and leaders across organizations to strengthen our team going forward. When you find participants staying up until two in the morning sharing organizing stories (like they did in Albany), you know you’re building strong ties.

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With summer winding down, it’s back to school time and that may mean time to hit the books for many… but here at the Alliance, our training team is busy planning the next round of learning in the streets.

Report: America’s Families Are Out of Balance

Media Advisory
Alliance for a Just Society
September 29, 2014
Contact: Kathy Mulady
kathy@allianceforajustsociety.org
(206) 992-8787

America’s Families Are Out of Balance

“The basic bargain of America is that no matter who you are, where you come from or what you look like, if you work hard & play by the rules, you can make it.”  – U.S. Department of LaborSecretary Tom Perez on the agency’s Labor Day 2014.

Millions of families in America work hard, play by the rules and are not making it.  The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and hasn’t been increased in five years.

A sobering report, Families Out of Balance, released this week by the Alliance for a Just Society, shows that the living wage for a single worker in Idaho or Montana is $14.40 an hour. In New York City, it’s $22.50 an hour.

For families it’s even more:

TeeJay Henry ­– A young man in Idaho is trying to support his wife and baby daughter on $12 an hour he earns working fulltime as a heavy truck tire technician. He’s had two raises in two years. They share a house with roommates.  A family living wage in Idaho: about $25 an hour.

Carlota Ortega – She and her husband have two children and live in New York City. She earns $8.50 an hour at a bakery; he earns $10 an hour in construction. They don’t have enough to eat. Living wage in New York City for this family with two working parents: $25.14 per hour for each parent.

Nazmie Batista – A young couple in Connecticut with two children count their pennies. Her husband works full time, but to save childcare costs, she works part-time. They cut back on groceries. She doesn’t know how she will cover her student loan payment. Living wage in Connecticut for a family with two children: $24.92 an hour for each parent.

Calculations in the Families Out of Balance report are no-frills, with a small cushion of savings to cover the minor emergencies that can sink low-income families. Our budgets don’t include payments on student loan debt or medical debt that burdens many low–income families.

What our report does show is that 9 out of 10 low-income families prioritize paying their bills, even if it means skipping meals or turning off the heat in the winter.

Now it’s time for Congress and our state legislators to prioritize families. It’s time for businesses to pay real living wages, so working families can thrive – not just barely survive. Here are some recommendations to get started.

Please let me know if you would like to interview families included in the report, or the authors of the report, Ben Henry and Allyson Fredericksen.

You can find the full report at http://www.thejobgap.org

Welcome to the Alliance’s “Power from the Roots Up” Conference

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 3.30.52 PM** Letter from the Executive Director **

Welcome to the Alliance’s annual conference, “Power from the Roots Up”!

In this moment, we are witnessing intense gridlock in D.C. The once-promising dream of comprehensive immigration reform has turned into a political nightmare. Congress refuses to allow former students to refinance one of the great scourges of family debt out there, student loans. And, despite significant momentum by state and local governments around the country — including the recent passage of a $15 minimum wage here in Seattle — Congress is still unable to increase a federal minimum wage that has remained stagnant since 2009.

However, we have much to celebrate.

Community organizations around the country are running successful campaigns at the local level, making change one policy at a time. They are racking up big wins with innovative campaigns, ensuring that, when national opportunities arise, we have built power and are poised to strike.

A few examples that provide an inspiring contrast to the morass in D.C.: Read more

Entrenched Lobbyists Stirring Raise-the-Wage Opposition

Spring is in the air. That means cherry blossom season in Washington. It also means fly-in time, when the nation’s biggest trade associations hold their annual lobby days. Case in point: the National Restaurant Association (NRA) is hitting town at the end of April.

Topping the Restaurant Association’s agenda? Stick a fork in the proposed minimum wage increase. The NRA has an impressive track record on this issue: Congress hasn’t voted to increase the minimum wage since 2007, and the tipped minimum wage that applies to many restaurant workers remains frozen at $2.13 an hour… where it’s been stuck since 1991.

Whose interests does the NRA represent? Its membership includes a kitchen sink list of corporate chains, including Darden Restaurants (parent company of Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and Capital Grille), YUM! Brands (parent of Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut), Walt Disney, McDonald’s, Marriott, Sodexo, Aramark, Starbucks, and Coca-Cola – all members of the Fortune 500 orGlobal 500.

But on its lobby day, the Restaurant Association will likely showcase “mom and pop” restaurants instead of corporate chains. If you’re going to lobby against a publicly popular issue like a minimum wage increase, it’s better optics to say you’re speaking for the corner bakery than corporate chains like Taco Bell and Olive Garden.

So, on its fly-in day, the NRA will cultivate a Main Street image. But the other 364 days of the NRA’s year feature a different main ingredient: Washington insider influence-peddling that stacks the deck against low-wage workers.

The Restaurant Association’s roster of registered lobbyists has grown substantially, even as more lobbying moves underground in Washington. From 2008 to 2013, the NRA more than doubled its count of registered lobbyists from 15 to 37, according to OpenSecrets.org. The member companies listed above added another 127 registered lobbyists last year.

The NRA’s choice of lobbyists reflects a commitment to using the best ingredients, netting four mentions on The Hill’s Top Lobbyists list for 2013. Or, you might say, the best-connected ingredients. The “secret sauce” behind the NRA’s lobbying success? A heaping helping of revolving door influence.

Nothing symbolizes influence-peddling in Washington like the revolving door between Congress and K Street – it’s like Washington’s version of insider trading. Despite reforms passed in 2007, the revolving door spins faster than ever: according to the Sunlight Foundation, the share of active contract lobbyists who are revolvers increased from 18 percent in 1998 to 44 percent in 2012.

And, when it comes to using the revolving door to cook up insider influence, nobody does it like the National Restaurant Association.

Indeed, when the NRA doubled its lobbyist count, it didn’t just pluck any old suits off the D.C. streets. It made a concerted investment: all the growth came from a four-fold increase in “insider trading” (ie, revolving door) lobbyists, from 6 in 2008 to 27 in 2013.

The NRA’s 2013 insiders included nine “rapid revolvers” (who jumped from government jobs to lobbying jobs the same or the following year), six former congressional chiefs of staff, six former legislative directors, and various senior advisors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

For perspective, compare the Restaurant Association’s revolver profile to that of the other NRA powerhouse in Washington – the National Rifle Association. While the two had virtually identical lobbyist counts last year (37 for restaurants33 for rifles), the Restaurant Association had nearly twice as many revolvers as the gun lobby (27 to 15).

The Restaurant Association’s members have invested heavily in insiders, too: the companies listed above tripled their combined revolver count from 28 to 91 over 1998-2013 (their non-revolvers only increased from 28 to 36). Talk about super-sizing your insider influence.

So the Restaurant Association and its biggest members together have more than a hundred “insider trading” lobbyists pushing their agenda in Congress. How many do minimum wage workers have, again?

If it seems surprisingly hard to raise the minimum wage, despite overwhelming public support, we’ll know why. The restaurant industry’s legions of revolving door lobbyists are trading on their insider influence to keep any wage increase right where the NRA wants it: in the deep freezer.

LeeAnn Hall is the executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society, a national organizing and policy network that works with state-based organizations to build campaigns for economic and racial equity. Saru Jayaraman is the Director of the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley, the author of national best-seller Behind the Kitchen Door, and co-founder & co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United).

This opinion piece first appeared in The Hill.

Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/labor/202621-revolving-door-slams-on-minimum-wage-hike#ixzz2y7zvw2Tw 

Families and Our Future Sinking in a Sea of Student Debt

This is the first in a three-part series by the Alliance for a Just Society, looking at the high cost of student debt for our country and for our future.students campus photo

Young college graduates are putting their futures on hold as they struggle under the burden of high student debt – and a weak economic recovery that has failed to provide good jobs for them. Young adults in their 20s and 30s are delaying buying houses, cars, furniture or starting families. The implications for every family, and our nation, are huge.

Student loan debt has passed $1.2 trillion, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Such widespread indebtedness has many causes and the ramifications are pervasive – including a decline in purchasing power.
Read more

Living Wage: A New Battle in the War on Poverty

Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson announced a War on Poverty in America, more than 46.5 million people in our country, national-report-cover-artabout one out of every seven, still struggle to get enough to eat or have a place to live. The U.S. Census Bureau shows that for people of color, the poverty rate is even higher, with one out of every four people who are black or Latino living in poverty.

Programs like Medicare and Medicaid that were created to fight the War on Poverty have helped millions of people. Strengthening both of those programs continues to be a critical part of protecting families. But the battle plan for keeping families safe and secure also has to include another key element: a significantly higher minimum wage – an actual living wage. Read more

Caldwell, ID City Council Asked to Move Payday Lenders Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Community and ICAN Push Council to Limit Industry From Preying on the Poor

 

“With the average payday loan in Idaho carrying an interest rate of 350% and with the average borrower taking out 7 payday loans to pay off the initial loan”, 20131004_101226predatory loan businesses continue to swarm into our state.  Last year alone, payday loans accounted for a negative economic impact of $1 BILLION! http://www.insightcced.org/uploads/assets/Net%20Economic%20Impact%20of%20Payday%20Lending.pdf  This is money that our communities lost, nationwide.

Volunteers and members of Idaho Community Action Network went into the neighborhoods of Caldwell and gathered 400 signatures from families who both see and personally experience the impact of payday and title loan businesses.  The canvassers met families; families who have lost their only vehicle; families who lost their home; their job and even their children, because they needed help.  They learned about loved ones who died owing a debt to a predatory lender.   Read more

Daley View: WHY IS A RAVEN LIKE A WRITING DESK? and Other Musings

I was in the Hart Senate Office Building for a meeting with Senator Manchin’s staff that ended around 2:30 PM. 82655_600Normally I would have bolted for the door to get fresh air, but I was starving. I went into the basement to the American Grill and was putting mustard on my cheeseburger when the shooting started outside the building. They locked us in.

“Gunshots have been reported on Capitol Hill requiring staff in all Senate office buildings to immediately shelter in place. Close, lock and stay away from external doors and windows. Take annunciators, emergency supply kits and escape hoods; and move to your office’s assigned shelter-in-place location or the innermost part of the office away from external doors or windows.”

Reports of just what happened are still being pieced together, but apparently a woman suffering through her own mental illness tried to ram through security at the Executive Office Building next to the White House. When she failed, she led the police on a chase that ended just outside the Heart Building. She had a child in the car with her. The woman was shot and has died.

She was unarmed. The police aren’t even being paid. Read more

Bad Medicine Report Details Influence of Pharma in DC Budget Failure

Released to the Press

September 25, 2013

 

New Report Analyzes Interest Group Influence in Blocking Proposed Cost Saving Measures in Medicare

Report Finds Influence of Pharmaceutical Industry as Major Impasse to Common Sense Budget Fixes

Congress has failed to act on a commonsense, good-government approach to controlling health care costs. The significant resources the pharmaceutical industry has put toward influence and access has rendered Congress unable to act in the public interest.

Bad Medicine Report.image

 

Bad Medicine: Pharmaceuticals’ Prescription for Profits Over People, released by the Alliance for a Just Society details the overwhelming influence of Big PhRMA on congressional outcomes and finds that the imbalance created by industry spending harms both the interest of the American people and our democratic process.

Read more

Work, Productivity, Play and Compensation in America

Americans work longer and harder than our peers in almost every industrial nation.

On average Americans are working 1800 hours per year, beating out Germany, France, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Spain, United Kingdom, Australia and Finland. http://blogs.salleurl.edu/emprendedores/files/2011/02/work.jpgAccording to The International Labour Organization American released a report stating that “workers in the United States on average produce $63,885 of wealth annually; compared to other industrialized countries of Europe, only Norway’s workers produce more wealth per hour ($37.99 in U.S. dollars) than do American workers ($35.63.)” Read more